Ms. Shapran, how long have you been living in Germany?
I arrived in Berlin with my daughter during the first days of the war. I was completely unprepared and had no real plan. We were very lucky because a friend of mine found a family who wanted to take us in. We still live with them and they have now become our family too.
You are HIV positive. Does your host family know this?
You know I’m HIV positive. The mother of the family worked as a nurse and therefore had little fear of contact. We talked about it a lot and I answered all of her questions. She accepted me. When I talk about HIV, I send the message that it’s not a big problem. This makes it easier for other people to accept it.
You are very open about your HIV infection.
If I can talk about it in Ukraine, where acceptance of HIV-positive people is much lower than here, then I will also talk about it in Germany.
Was it difficult for you to come out as HIV positive in Ukraine?
No, I didn’t have any problems. But I also think I was in a fortunate position. At the time, I was working as a screenwriter for the medical television show Embarrassing Bodies, so I already knew a lot about HIV. Those around me also had a lot of experience with the topic. When the positive test came, I wasn’t happy about it, of course, but it wasn’t a big problem for me either. I was open about it. I knew that if others didn’t accept me, it was only because they didn’t have enough knowledge about HIV. But I had it. I accepted people’s fears and tried to support them. For me, the worst thing about HIV is the stigma. Many HIV-negative people also experience stigmatization, for example because of their sexual orientation or origin. Stigma is a type of social disease with many symptoms such as fear, anxiety and lack of rationality. It’s important that we all stand up against stigma and advocate for acceptance.
It’s not easy for many Ukrainians to be so open about their HIV infection, is it?
Yes, I also know of many people who were so ashamed that they couldn’t even talk about it with friends. We have a big problem with HIV in Ukraine. But the problem is not the care of those affected; that is now working well for us. The real problem is that people don’t even get tested for fear of stigmatization. Many people think that only gay men and drug users can get HIV. However, many heterosexual women in Ukraine are now also affected. Actually, we should have overcome these stereotypes. The situation is improving, but only slowly.
“It felt natural”: Campaign image from Deutsche Aidshilfe for World AIDS Day 2023 : Image: Deutsche Aidshilfe
What did you do when you came to Germany? Were you worried about not getting your medication?
One of the first things I did when I came to Germany was to contact Deutsche Aidshilfe. The Association of Positive Ukrainians in Germany (PlusUkrDe) also helped me. Someone from the Berlin Aidshilfe then made me an appointment at an HIV treatment center. I didn’t have any problems. But I also know that many are afraid to come forward. They are ashamed and think they will be deported. This is terrible, I get goosebumps when I talk about it.
Are you connected to other HIV-positive people?
Yes, I am involved in various organizations and projects. But to be honest, HIV isn’t really a big issue for me anymore. Before I came to Germany, I thought I wouldn’t talk about it anymore. But when I came here, it helped me maintain a piece of my identity. When everything in life is new, you need a constant. HIV was that constant for me. This may sound strange, but through my commitment and my contact with others, HIV eventually became a support in my life.
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